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An Epic Journey from Harare to Cape Town Written by Chris Middleton – The International Platform on Sport and Development (www.sportanddev.org)

It took the Hoops 4 Hope (H4H) Zimbabwean team three days to travel from Harare to Cape Town and take part in their training. An epic journey reflective of the development of H4H, an organisation involved in development through sport in Southern Africa.

Ngoni Mukukula, co-founder of Hoops 4 Hope, contemplating the bus used to bring the Zimbabwean delegation to Cape Town.

H4H provides life skills through basketball with programmes running in South Africa and Zimbabwe. Staff and volunteers from both countries took part in the “Skills 4 Life All-Star training programme” from February 18-20 in Gugulethu, South Africa.

Ngoni Mukukula, co-founder of H4H, and coach of Zimbabwe’s women’s national basketball team, reflects on the journey that brought him to Cape Town for this event, and more generally on the overall development of H4H.

How did you get involved in basketball in Zimbabwe?
“I set up the first basketball team in the community of Dzivarasekwa back in 1991. Basketball was new for the members of the community: they were surprised to see men using their hands instead of playing football with their feet!

Initially, we would only have limited attendance at our games, but after a few years, we got used to playing in front of a couple of thousand people. The basketball court is extremely central, and our games rapidly became a source of entertainment for the community.”

And how did the “Hoops 4 Hope adventure” begin?
"At that time I was working for the Sport and Recreation Commission of Zimbabwe, and one of my assignments was to coordinate basketball programmes within rural communities in Zimbabwe. One day, while returning to the office, I was informed an American by the name of Mark Crandall had left a note, indicating he was interested in getting in touch with me.

We met the same week, and I was immediately touched by Mark’s sincerity, simplicity and dedication. I was really excited to meet someone who shared a similar dream, however I didn’t suspect this was the first chapter of such a fascinating story.

Mark had to return to the USA, and back in the nineties, we depended entirely on post mail. So basically, we conceptualized the Hoops for Hope programmes via letters! The letters I wrote from Zimbabwe took two weeks to reach Mark, and his replies would also get back to me within a fortnight. I’ve kept all the letters Mark wrote back!

We launched Hoops 4 Hope in 1997 in the community of Mabvuku, Zimbabwe. Before we knew it, we were operating in nine different communities."

And are there any challenges you faced while setting up your programmes?
"Yes, I could identify four main challenges: first of all, we needed to convince the parents that basketball represented an adequate vehicle to provide their children with life skills.

Secondly, we had to set up basketball courts enabling the kids to play in safe environments.

Thirdly, it was crucial for us to involve the local city councils to make sure they’d support us in our endeavor.

And finally, we needed to identify and train coaches capable of teaching sports and life skills."

What are the main similarities and differences between your programmes in South Africa and Zimbabwe?
"Overall, we share a common vision within the organisation, which is to provide youth with opportunities through sports. It’s easier to communicate nowadays, and we learn from each other on a daily basis.

However, I also note a few differences between our programmes: Zimbabwe has emerged from a major socio-economic crisis and an intense period of political turbulence. Children have been directly affected by this situation: in the communities, we noticed numerous children couldn’t attend school regularly, or needed to help their family generate some income.

Therefore, I believe there is an important need in Zimbabwe to “help them become children” again, and I believe Hoops 4 Hope can contribute to this process by offering them an opportunity to play in a safe and clean environment which is supervised by competent coaches."